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  1. #1
    Senior Member JohnDoe2's Avatar
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    Bill Gates-supported lithium startup targets Salton Sea CA.

    Bill Gates-supported lithium startup targets Salton Sea

    4 hours ago 0 22 5 minutes read



    David Snydacker knew that the Imperial Valley of California was a “cemetery for lithium mining technologies”.

    For years, companies have tried and failed to find a cost-effective way to extract the precious mineral – a key ingredient in batteries that power electric cars – from the naturally heated fluid at the bottom of the Salton Sea. One of the most recent busts was Simbol Materials, a high-profile startup that collapsed in 2015 shortly after Tesla Inc. of Elon Musk. offered to buy the business for 325 million dollars.


    But many deep-pocket investors believe that Snydacker’s technology could finally launch a new domestic clean energy industry.


    His Oakland startup, Lilac Solutions, recently announced a $ 20 million funding cycle led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which funds startups working to reduce global warming emissions. Investors in Breakthrough include three of the world’s 10 richest people: the co-founder of Microsoft Corp. Gates, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.


    On Monday, Lilac and the Australian company Controlled Thermal Resources announced their partnership to develop a lithium extraction facility in the Salton Sea. The Australian firm is trying to build the region’s first new geothermal power plant in a decade, a project that would be much more profitable if the overheated underground fluid could produce lithium in addition to electricity.


    Lilac also works with billionaire investor Warren Buffett Berkshire Hathaway Energy, who has not previously been reported outside of the energy industry.

    Berkshire is one of many companies finance research from the California Energy Commission to build a lithium extraction demonstration plant. The plant would use Lilac technology, according to one letter from the Geothermal Resources Council, an industry trade group, urging state officials to fund Berkshire’s proposal.

    A Berkshire subsidiary owns 10 of the 11 geothermal power plants currently in service at the southern end of the Salton Sea.


    Bubbling pots of mud outside the EnergySource plant are a telltale sign of the powerful geothermal reservoir hiding at the southern end of the Salton Sea.

    (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)


    Snydacker was initially reluctant to go near the Salton Sea geothermal area because of the history of unsuccessful lithium projects.

    But Lilac then began to test its proprietary technology on salt-rich waters – called brines – from around the world. Snydacker said the technology worked so well to selectively extract lithium from brines that he decided to try the Salton Sea resource.


    If Lilac succeeds, it could help fuel a global transition to cleaner sources of energy. This transition is a priority for the Golden State, where decision-makers have set targets to reduce global warming emissions by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.


    “There aren’t many big mining projects going online in California these days,” said Snydacker. “And what could be more relevant to the California economy than producing lithium?”


    “If we do not take dramatic steps to electrify vehicles and electrify other aspects of the industry, we are going to have serious global problems,” he added.


    There is no shortage of lithium on the world market, at least not yet.


    But most of the battery products produced today come from environmentally destructive evaporation ponds in South America and in hard rock mines in Australia.

    Environmentalists have long hoped for a cleaner source.

    National security hawks, on the other hand, see lithium as an essential mineral that should be produced domestically and not abroad.


    California Energy Commission President David Hochschild has described lithium as “the oil of the future for clean energy.” It is optimistic that Lilac Solutions could finally unlock the resource of the Salton Sea, adding to the clean energy economy of a state that already has around 700,000 electric vehicles and 17 factories manufacturing electric vehicles.


    “The analogy was made with the gold rush, and I think it’s appropriate,” said Hochschild. “It’s still early.”
    World lithium prices have fluctuated enormously in recent years, briefly hovering above $ 20,000 per tonne of lithium carbonate two years ago, as demand outstripped supply, before falling below $ 7,500 per tonne. as new mines went online, according to Benchmark Mineral Intelligence.

    In the Salton Sea, the significant revenue potential of lithium could help stimulate the construction of new geothermal power plants, which are more expensive to build than solar and wind farms, but can produce zero-emission electricity 24 hours a day .


    This is the hope of Rod Colwell, managing director of Controlled Thermal. The company examined more than a dozen proposals before choosing Lilac as its lithium extraction partner. Controlled Thermal plans to drill its first wells in the next three months so that Lilac can spend several weeks using its technology in field conditions, to inform final designs of the large-scale facility.


    Colwell describes his company’s project as a first lithium production plant and a second power plant.


    “You really want to be competitive in the global lithium market, which I think Imperial Valley can,” said Colwell. “We firmly believe that the Imperial Valley is in the top quartile of production costs globally.”

    Lilac Solutions engineers Dennis Neymit, left, and Alex Gershanov are working to build a pilot-scale lithium extraction system at Lilac’s Oakland facility.
    (David Snydacker)


    In addition to powering clean cars, lithium-ion batteries are increasingly used to store solar and wind energy for use at night and during windless days. BloombergNEF forecasts that global demand for lithium will grow from 300,000 tonnes in 2017 to 1.8 million tonnes in 2030.

    Controlled Thermal hopes to produce more than 17,000 tonnes of lithium carbonate by 2023, and then double that by 2025. Hochschild of the California Energy Commission said the Salton Sea geothermal area could potentially provide up to ‘at 200,000 tonnes.


    Snydacker researched batteries and the lithium supply chain while obtaining his doctorate in materials engineering at Northwestern University, and he is the main inventor of the Lilac technology. It is an ion exchange process which pushes the brine rich in minerals through a module filled with beads which selectively absorbs lithium. Once the beads are saturated, Lilac uses acid to remove the lithium.


    The trick is in the material used for the beads, which, according to Snydacker, is very selective and more durable than the alternatives.


    Lilac has 11 employees and has worked closely with the global engineering company Hatch to validate its process. Snydacker said the company’s technology could also be applied to brines from South America, thereby reducing processing times and environmental impacts.


    The startup has raised a total of $ 24 million, but has no online business plans yet.


    Berkshire Hathaway and Controlled Thermal are not the only energy companies seeking to produce lithium in the Salton Sea.


    The region’s newest geothermal power plant is operated by San Diego-based EnergySource, which has developed its own lithium extraction technique which it says combines several commercially proven technologies. The company is testing the technique in its geothermal plant and claims to have produced kilograms of battery-grade lithium.


    EnergySource estimates that it needs to raise $ 350 million to build a commercial scale extraction facility.


    “We have prospects, people with whom we exchange terms on the levy side for lithium. And we are also in discussions with people who would be there with us to finance the project,” said Eric Spomer, president and chief executive officer general of the firm.

    EnergySource chief operating officer Derek Benson opens a shipping container at John L. Featherstone geothermal power station near the Salton Sea. Inside the container are equipment for the company’s lithium extraction process.
    (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

    http://presstories.com/2020/03/16/bi...ts-salton-sea/

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